Banks’ Mobile Marketing Demands Sharper Focus on Message and Audience

Increasingly bank and credit union mobile websites are where people begin their hunt for new accounts. Knowing what to say, how to answer questions, and what to leave out will help institutions maximize mobile sales. A key lesson: Don't mindlessly imitate what nonbanks and even fintechs are doing — it's not always a good fit.
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Selling financial products on tiny mobile screens continues to be one of the major digital challenges for bank and credit union marketers. Yet it’s a challenge that institutions can’t afford not to excel at, because the smartphone is increasingly becoming where banking relationships begin. Many Americans live on their mobiles.

As a result, nearly every successful financial app and neobank account is mobile-first, today, and consumers are leading traditional banks and credit unions there.

Mobile Is Where Banking Begins Now:

56% of consumers surveyed by Forrester use their smartphones to research accounts prior to deciding which account to open at which institution. And 44% of the study sample goes on to apply for or to fully open their checking account on their smartphone.

Mobile websites are where this activity takes place, typically, as consumers don’t have mobile apps yet because they haven’t opened a relationship yet.

Finding the right balance can be difficult, especially if institutions don’t draw sufficiently on the input of outside consumer users to test their approaches.

Alyson Clarke, Principal Analyst at Forrester, says in an interview with The Financial Brand that many executives she speaks with think their mobile marketing is understandable and works well. Often she disagrees.

“It might be easy for you, because you work in the industry, but it’s not simple for the consumer out there in the marketplace to understand,” Clarke says she’ll tell them. Institutions have to remember that the typical consumer doesn’t change financial providers that often, so they haven’t anywhere near the exposure to the range of mobile outreach that a marketer or retail banker immersed in the competitive mix does.

Don’t Dumb Down Mobile Marketing:

Financial institutions hear a cacophony of advice about what they should learn and even imitate from the offerings of fintechs and non-bank providers — and they have to take free advice very carefully.

In a report about banking sales on mobile sites, Forrester suggests that some banks have learned key lessons about mobile site selling and are doing well. However, many have not learned those lessons, and some have gone too far and are hurting their sales results by overdoing good ideas.

Too Much Simplification: Checking Accounts Are Not Pizzas

A constant mantra holds that “banking is boring, banking is complex, banking is ugly and clunky” and so the oft-given advice has been to “draw inspiration” (or “engage in imitation”) from other nonbank industries.

The trouble is that some institutions are overdoing this now, according to Clarke.

“They’re not getting the balance right,” she says. “The pendulum is swinging too far toward simplification as they seek to copy the approaches of retailer and fintechs. But those players have very simple products and not a lot of them, in comparison.”

More specifically, Clarke says that in the process of trying to simplify the user experience and the messaging of mobile marketing, financial institutions are sacrificing both depth and breadth of content.

Measures taken to produce more sales are actually backfiring. Removing menus and progress bars may work for nonbank offerings, but they leave banking shoppers at a loss.

“You can’t just copy the approaches used by Amazon and other retailers because it’s not the same product. I don’t care whether it’s a checking account, a credit card or a mortgage. Buying banking products is more complex than buying a pair of socks or a shirt.”

— Alyson Clarke, Forrester

As digital sales grew to importance in recent years, an explanation or excuse for financial institution laggards often was the amount of compliance information that goes with financial sales. Yet this didn’t surface in the interview with Clarke. For her, many institutions have simplified away the detail level that consumers need to make an intelligent buying decision.

This is not just Clarke speaking from her own experience. Part of Forrester’s technique is to recruit consumer users to test institutions’ mobile marketing and give the firm’s researchers feedback. She says that they frequently reported that they did not like it when institutions simplified things too much.

Clarke reads from a user comment: “The information provided seemed very basic. And I don’t know if I truly got the details of each account. They could have provided more insights in a clearer way.”

Many institutions have trimmed out the cross-selling that used to be built into their mobile sites, says Clarke. She says this is because they believe that consumers find this intrusive and annoying when they want to open a checking account. They don’t want cross-selling to interfere with “a great experience.”

If the cross-selling is simplistic, “Hey do you want fries with that checking account?,” then Clarke agrees. However, she says that there’s a right way, such as triggering a suggestion when input indicates that an additional service would be helpful. “This can be beneficial for the consumer and good for the institution’s business.” She says that Bank of America is an institution that is getting this right.

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Decision Point: Who Are You Trying to Communicate With?

Fintech and neobank marketing and onboarding approaches are often held up as examples to emulate for speed, simplicity and consumer friendliness in general.

Much of this leaves Clarke cold.

“They’re not necessarily doing the right thing either,” says Clarke. “Many fintechs, when they do account opening, oversimplify some screens. They might get younger consumers saying, ‘That’s fine, it’s a great experience.’ But as you move up the chain and get to older consumers, they are a bit more cynical. They are saying, ‘There’s not really enough information here for me to make a choice. How do I really know what I’m getting? I’m not going to blindly trust this’.”

Take the matter of fees. Younger consumers may take a “no fee” statement at face value, says Clarke, but older consumers will want to drill down. Experience, says Clarke, will lead them to think, “Hang on, does it really have no fees? Like ever?”

Simple for simple’s sake pleases younger consumers, but in part that’s because they typically don’t have complex financial needs. Most fintech offerings are basically souped-up transaction or savings accounts and it is only comparatively recently that the newcomers are adding additional products and services to their sites.

Banks and credit unions “are selling a deeper relationship to customers who have more complicated needs,” says Clarke.

Ultimately financial institutions need to decide who they are trying to appeal to with their mobile sales efforts.

“Good design is not just designing for one-size-fits-all,” Clarke explains. “It’s thinking about your audience.”

Practical Factors that Mobile Sites Must Master

The report and the conversation with Clarke revealed some keys to mobile selling:

1. Make it easy to compare checking account options.
A key place to apply the principles outlined by Clarke is in mobile sites’ comparison functions. These allow users to show the features of two accounts side-by-side so they can make a buying decision regarding what checking account option best fits their needs.

Strong comparison setups earn the kudos of Forrester’s consumer panelists. So does the availability of chatbots and human help that can be accessed during the shopping process. Only one of the six institutions that the Forrester report focuses on had 24/7 chat availability. This was Wells Fargo, with chat that Forrester said “excelled.”

(Read More: Why Chatbots Fail in Banking)

2. Avoid gimmicky, overthought names that mean nothing to consumers.
Institutions must stick to names and descriptions for accounts that match what consumers are looking for.

“Banks need to be very careful with naming. Some get so attached to names that they trademark them. But sometimes it can confuse consumers,” she says.

Clarke comes up with a hypothetical name that resembles some real ones she’s seen: “Performance Access Checking.” Both by itself and in comparison to other checking offerings the institution has on its site, this mouthful means nothing to anyone outside of the institution.

“They need to do away with a lot of the marketing and random jargon,” says Clarke. “Name things in a simple, plain-language way.”

In fact, don’t bend over backwards coming up with alternatives to “checking accounts.” Yes, more transactions than ever don’t rely on checks. But many people still use the old nomenclature so that is what they are looking for.

3. Make extensive use of hyperlinks.

You can simplify account details (and even some compliance information) and yet keep detail-oriented consumers happy. One Capital One user told Forrester that they appreciated that the bank didn’t present too much information, “but there are also hyperlinks if you want to get more information on these particular topics. It’s all right here for you.”

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